Newly Discovered 1921 Babe Ruth Proctor's Theatre Vaudeville Advertising Card - Highest Graded!

Sold For: $19,200

Auction Year: 2016 fall

Lot: 752

Item Year: 1921

Category: Prewar Baseball Cards (1900-1941)

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Graded VG 40 by SGC (submitted by REA). Presented is an exciting newly discovered example of an exceedingly rare advertising card heralding Babe Ruth's vaudeville debut at Proctor's Theatre in Mount Vernon, New York, on November 3, 1921. This is an incredible rarity, and to the best of our knowledge, this is only the third (and highest-graded!) example of this fascinating and significant Babe Ruth card. (The first confirmed example was offered as lot #443 in REA's 2009 auction, realizing $9,400, while the second example appeared as lot #1278 in REA's Fall 2015 auction, realizing $19,200.) The small white-bordered card, measuring 1.75 x 2.75 inches, features an exceptional high-quality continuous-tone real photo of Ruth in uniform as a member of the New York Yankees. We have never seen this image of Ruth before anywhere. Ruth's white facsimile inscription appears in the lower right corner: "To My Mount Vernon Admirers - 'Babe' Ruth - Proctor Theatre - Nov 3-4-5." The preprinted lettering on the reverse notes that this card was "Compliments of Mr. F. F. Proctor to Babe Ruth's Many Mt. Vernon Friends - Appearing at Proctor's - Mount Vernon - Nov. 3rd-4th-5th." The extreme rarity of this card is obviously a result of both its regional distribution and the fact that it promotes a specific three-day event and therefore was distributed for only a very short time (at a small venue, no less). It would be hard to overstate the rarity of this Ruth card! While there's no way for us to know what's in every attic in America, we would not be surprised if the three known examples were the only surviving cards heralding Ruth's debut on the famed vaudeville circuit.

Ruth's 1921 season was one for the record books, as he took the baseball world by storm with his prodigious batting feats. In addition to setting new single-season records for home runs (59) and RBI (177), Ruth also led the league in runs (177) and slugging percentage (.512) in powering the Yankees to their first pennant in franchise history. Following the season, he decided to capitalize on his fame by taking part in a baseball barnstorming tour, followed by a fifteen-week tour on the Keith vaudeville circuit. Unfortunately, Ruth's off-season began on a sour note. His participation in the barnstorming tour violated league rules (World Series participants were forbidden to take part in postseason barnstorming tours) and resulted in his receiving a stern punishment from newly appointed Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Landis, who later both fined and suspended him for his "mutinous defiance." Landis' actions had no bearing on Ruth's stage career, however, and he debuted his new vaudeville act on November 3rd at Proctor's Theatre in Mount Vernon, New York. Ruth's debut that night is wonderfully detailed in Marshall Smelser's fine book, The Life That Ruth Built (University of Nebraska Press, 1993):

Ruth & Cross, with an act by Thomas J. Grey, tried out in Mount Vernon, New York, on November 3. They filled the house, the applause was spontaneous, and Ruth was at ease. Despite a cold, Ruth joined with Cross to sing 'Little by Little' in a 'not unpleasant baritone voice.' The critic thought the most memorable gag began with the delivery of a telegram, said to be from Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Commissioner of Baseball, even then, as all the world knew, brooding on the punishment he would give Ruth for barnstorming.

Cross: Is it serious?
Ruth: I should say it is! Seventy-five cents, collect.

After fine-tuning his act for two weeks at smaller theaters, Ruth finally arrived in New York City, playing the famed Palace Theatre on November 14th, where he was generally well received by the critics. As stated earlier, because this card was a regional issue in promotion of a three-night event, its distribution was probably quite limited, which explains the fact that only two other examples are known. The card presents as Excellent overall, with outstanding centering, light wear to the corners, and a beautiful, crisp image. It has been graded and encapsulated VG 40 by SGC due to light adhesive residue on the reverse, which appears to be from past storage in an album. There is no paper loss, and the text is clear and boldly printed. This is an outstanding, fascinating, and extremely rare Babe Ruth card, and one that would be an extremely important highlight in even the most advanced collection. Reserve $2,500. Estimate (open).

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